By David Ransom
There’s one thing that Ann Tuennerman, aka Mrs. Cocktail, says she doesn’t do that simply makes no sense to me. Then again, her publicist roots run deep, so maybe that’s just the spin on the story that she wants us to believe… More on what it is, later.
On paper, Ann is probably the unlikeliest choice for a Rocks Star to grace this column since its inception a few years ago, as she has never actually worked in a bar, and her restaurant experience is limited to working at Wendy’s while in high school and college. Yet, at the same time, she is probably one of the most deserving recipients of that moniker, as it is she who has created and developed the most influential cocktail and bartending conference in the world, Tales of the Cocktail (www.talesofthecocktail.com), which is held each July in New Orleans, and will mark its tenth anniversary this year.
Although she was born in Louisville, Kentucky, Ann does not remember a life other than the one she’s lived in New Orleans, as she arrived in the Crescent City at the age of three months, and considers that city her true home. It is in New Orleans, that Ann grew up, went to high school and college for a marketing degree, and then started out on her professional career; first in public relations working for local legend Malcolm Ehrhardt (whose Ehrhardt Group actually donated office space to Ann to help get Tales up and running in its early years), and then working in communications for various radio and TV stations in the area, including WEZB and the WB Network.
She did leave New Orleans once, for three months, to live in New York, but that was not by choice. That was due to the arrival in town of a very angry woman named Katrina, and as soon as it was possible for her to return, Ann did just that. “New Orleans may not be in my DNA, but it’s definitely in my blood,” she says. “I can’t even think of living anywhere else.” Good for us, she wasn’t smitten by New York, as Tales of the Cocktail had only been up and running for three years when Katrina hit, and it could easily have become yet another of the tragic losses endured in the wake of that awful storm by the city that invented the cocktail.
Ann’s commitment to the New Orleans, and more importantly its historically significant thread in the fabric of the world’s culinary heritage, is what keeps her constantly striving to find ways to show off the city she loves. Along with Tales of the Cocktail, she’s also started the city’s first culinary historical tour, the first cocktail history tour, and perhaps most importantly, in 2006 Ann started the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society (NOCCPS – www.artsneworleans.org) to preserve New Orleans’ dining and drinking history. That organization also raises funds for the city’s restaurant industry and helps promote tourism to the city and attendance to Tales of the Cocktail, which is officially produced by the society.
Other accolades bestowed upon Ann are: “Woman of the Year” by New Orleans City Business in November 2004, “Top 40 Under 40” by Gambit Weekly, also in 2004, and in 2005, New Orleans City Business named her to the “Power Generation.”
This coming week Tales of the Cocktail will commence its tenth anniversary edition with another chock-full schedule of events, showrooms, seminars, an awards program, and countless numbers of cocktails for the lucky folks who are going, of which I am definitely one. I had a chance to catch up with Ann recently as she was taking a quick break from final preparation for this year’s festival, and ask her about how Tales came to be.
RS: Tales of the Cocktail had its first event in 2002. Tell us about the first edition.
AT: Well, the first year, Tales was only a one-day event that featured a cocktail hour followed by a spirited dinner. We had about 100 people show up, and we held it in the back of the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (www.hotelmonteleone.com), where Tales is still anchored to this day. There were no seminars, no tasting rooms, and we had only one sponsor: Southern Comfort. To put that first year in perspective, this year we expect 20,000 attendees over five days.
RS: What made you start Tales?
AT: I got the idea from a walking tour of bars in New Orleans that showed where some of the city’s historical drinks, like the Sazerac, etc, were first created. I had been doing that tour for a year, and wanted to do something on a more significant scale to promote the city’s cocktail history, as there was no such thing at the time. The first Tales was really meant to be a celebration of the one-year anniversary of the tour.
RS: In 2005, Tales was gearing up for its fourth edition, and then Katrina hit. Tell us about that.
AT: Katrina, while a terrible disaster for the city, actually helped evolve Tales. I was displaced to New York, and the first person I heard from was Simon Ford of Plymouth Gin, who called me and asked what he could do to help. His efforts really helped rally the industry and bring the sponsorship we needed to get the program off the ground in the hesitant post-Katrina atmospheric conditions that surrounded travel to New Orleans. All of the sudden, Tales went from being a small local event to a large multi-day, well attended event that was embraced by the industry all across the country.
RS: There is probably no industry more giving than the hospitality industry. What did Tales do to help repay that kindness and belief in its mission?
AT: One of the most important aspects of Tales is its mentoring and scholarship programs. From day one, Tales’ mission has included a scholarship program for bartenders, and since it’s founding in 2006, the NOCCPS has supported members of the hospitality industry through programs like the new Apprentice Aid Fund, providing financial assistance to former apprentices in times of medical need, the Cocktail Apprentice Scholarship Program and the Flo Woodward Memorial Scholarship. We feel very strongly about giving back to the industry that gives so freely of their time to help us create this wonderful event.
RS: This year, Tales of the Cocktail celebrates its tenth anniversary, and is well-established as the leading spirits event in the world now, with international attendance and an awards program that highlights excellence in countless categories within the industry. What’s next?
AT: We started Tales Vancouver a couple of years ago, and while much smaller, interest is high and it is growing organically each year. We also have a book tour this year to celebrate the release of our first book: Tales of the Cocktail from A to Z written by cocktail historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. Also, in the next couple of years, we will launch another satellite city edition of Tales of the Cocktail, but I can’t tell you what city, or country, yet.
RS: what is it about this year’s Tales of the Cocktail that makes you most proud?
AT: I think it’s how big it’s gotten, and what it means within the industry. This year we’ll launch an astounding 37 new products at Tales, and it will require a staff of 200 people to run. That’s a long way from 2002 and our one-sponsor/one-day event.
RS: When we first met, you were Ann Rogers. You married Paul Tuennerman, aka Mr. Cocktail, in 2007. Tell us about it a bit.
AT: Paul and I were introduced through a mutual friend in February 2006. He is Vice President in charge of development for a restaurant chain, and works in Dallas full-time in a very corporate environment. I’m sure when he went back to Dallas that first time he was scratching his head muttering, “What am I getting myself into? This woman says she produces a conference on drinking. That doesn’t sound like a real job to me…” However, we DID hit it off, and were married in November 2007 at Arnaud’s in front of 24 close friends. Now we split weekends in Dallas or New Orleans.
RS: Other than the title, does Paul work on the event?
AT: Absolutely! He’s very involved in the planning, helps run the budgets, and while I’m sure he’d give this part up in a heartbeat, he also acts as our unofficial I.T. guy when we need it.
RS: Enough said, I’m that guy in my office, too. I think Paul and I just found another thing to commiserate about… maybe we’ll bond over a glass of scotch at Tales.
RS: So, with your weekdays free of marital responsibilities, what keeps you going Monday to Thursday?
AT: I work A LOT, and love to go out and visit the restaurants and bars (and bartenders) in this great city. I also got a dog last year (although he’s not a replacement for Paul, trust me!). He’s an adorable little Malti-Poo named Delta Dog.
RS: So, I know you love cocktails, what fabulous libation do you make yourself to drink when you go home each night?
AT: Honestly? I don’t really drink at home during the week… I’m not sure how Paul would take seeing a pile of empty bottles in the garbage when he got home on Fridays, so I usually abstain, unless, of course, I’m out…which is fairly often.
RS: So, you expect me to write that Mrs. Cocktail does not actually make cocktails…?
AT: Sounds funny, doesn’t it, but I guess I do. Paul makes the cocktails, quite proficiently, when we’re together…
And there it is, folks. Who’d-a-thunk-it?
Tales of the Cocktail will be held in New Orleans July 25-29.
Rum Row Old Fashioned
By Dominic Venegas
(the Official Cocktail of Tales of the Cocktail 2012)
Old Fashioned glass
1.25 oz. El Dorado 12 year old rum
.75 oz. Bank’s 5 Islands rum
.25 oz. Water
1 barspoon (tsp) of Muscovado sugar
1 dash Angostura orange bitters
1 drop Bittermens Burlesque bitters
Naval orange peel, squeezed over and dropped in.
Place 1 barspoon of Muscavado Sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Drop orange and Burlesque Bitters in sugar, add .25 oz. water, and add 3-4 cubes of ice. Stir for about 5-7 seconds. Pour in .75 oz. Bank’s 5 Islands rum and 1.25 oz El Dorado 12 year old rum. Garnish with a Naval Orange peel.